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'Journey' Review (PS3)

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Journey

Journey

Photo © Sony
ThatGameCompany, the developers behind the revolutionary "flOw" and "Flower," have delivered another landmark downloadable game in the highly-anticipated "Journey," an experience that dares defy the basic expectations one has when they pick up a controller. There’s no gunfire. There’s no dialogue. You won’t die. And you probably won’t even save your game (as the title is truly best-experienced in one sitting). It’s another poetic experience from TGC. Not only does it ask players to reconsider what to expect from a video game, it then leaves its audience thinking that they haven’t been expecting enough in the first place.

Game Details

  • Publisher: SCEA
  • Developer: ThatGameCompany
  • ESRB Rating: RP (Rating Pending)
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Pros: Daring gameplay; gorgeous score; poetic style; emotional connection
  • Cons: Short running time; not as visually stunning as Flower

"Journey" opens with a barely-outlined figure, which vaguely resembles a shrouded person with a flowing scarf, staring across a vast desert at a very-distant mountain, with a light reaching to the sky from its center. Instinct tells the player to move toward that mountain. And so the game starts with no cut-scene introduction or storytelling foundation. It’s as simple as a character, a destination on the horizon, and the desire to reach it.

As you cross the beautifully-rendered desert, other game elements slowly get introduced into the fabric of the game. You come across items in the environment than can allow you to jump, sometimes even approaching flight, or other items that can build bridges and other forms of movement. As you move forward, you seem to be learning a language of symbols that helps your progression. Levels are demarcated by what could be called “shrines” - locations where the player sits and sees artwork (not unlike ancient hieroglyphics) come to life that seem to chart his journey towards the mountain.

Gameplay

Journey

Journey

Photo © Sony

"Journey" is all about movement and the experience takes the player across a variety of environments from desert to water to snow-blasted mountains. The control stick and two face buttons are all that come into play during the experience as most of the gameplay consists of trying to discern where to go and how to get there. There’s a small amount of puzzle-solving, but the majority of the game bucks most traditional genre expectations.

The few controls there are feel organic and well-designed. Movement is fluid and the environment is very responsive, particularly in later levels as the player has to push against a blowing, cold wind to progress. At certain points, your character jumps and glides through the environment and the gameplay is incredibly focused and responsive. Unlike a lot of downloadable games, "Journey" never once feels cheaply made or underdeveloped in terms of gameplay. It’s as accomplished in that arena as most on-disc games.

"Journey" only runs about 90 to 120 minutes long (if you push forward without much exploring), but don’t worry about the short length. It has heavy replay value. While the gameplay is simple, it’s worth noting that I didn’t achieve a single trophy the first time through, indicating that there are plenty of hidden treasures. I was happy not to see the trophy notification and to just experience "Journey" in another way that distinguishes it from most games. And, as for its short running time (I can’t stress enough that it should really be experienced in one sitting), you would be hard-pressed to find a more artistically impressive two hours on the PSN. It may be short, but it’s a case where quality wins out over quantity.

What does it all mean? What is the story about? In terms of traditional storytelling, "Journey" is as open to interpretation as any game you’ve ever played. It takes the foundation of all games – going from a starting point to a finishing one – and leaves its meaning up to the player, nearly poetic through its lack of definition. For some, it will merely be a character who climbs a mountain. For others, it’ll be a metaphor for human existence. We start out unsure of where we’re going or why, we become more confident as we age, and we end, well, I wouldn’t dare spoil the ending of "Journey" for you. But it truly did feel like the final chapters of human life to this player.

Graphics & Sound

Here is where "Journey" truly shines. In a game with no concrete story, no dialogue, and so many of the inherent storytelling crutches of development gone, a lot rests on the shoulders of how it looks and sounds. "Journey" is an amazing accomplishment visually. From the grains of sun-kissed sand to the moon-lit flakes of snow, the graphics in "Journey" are simple but artistic. They feel like the product of a vision on the part of a development team rather than a mere ingredient in gameplay.

When it comes to sound, the score for "Journey" is one of the best ever produced for a video game. The compositions by Austin Wintory are mesmerizing, not just adding to the overall fabric of the piece, but also serving as its foundation. Music is so often an afterthought in gaming, but this is just another way in which "Journey" turns expectations on their head.

Bottom Line

Journey

Journey

Photo © Sony
There is no better way to illustrate the triumphant accomplishment that is "Journey" than this personal anecdote. As the final chapters unfurled in front of me, I started to get a little misty-eyed. When’s the last time a game forced you to think about it on a symbolic level? When’s the last time a game moved you in a way so deep that you weren’t really even sure why? And it probably moved me in a different way than it would a teenager or a grandparent or even you. "Journey" is truly a landmark achievement in gaming.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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